Review: Bush City: The Big Stories of New Zealand’s Plants

Review: Bush City: The Big Stories of New Zealand’s Plants

Discovering distinctive features of our flora

Established around 30 years ago, a small piece of bush outside Te Papa is now a thriving spot of biodiversity containing over 1,400 native plants, many of which are common in Wellington.

On an exploratory walk through Bush City with Te Papa Curator of Botany Leon Perrie, Friends discovered some distinctive features of our flora. Leon explained how New Zealand is a global biodiversity hotspot, with four out of five native plants found only here.

Some plants are found in other places. For instance, kawakawa is naturally found in Wellington, however, there is another species in Norfolk Island. Whereas rimu and silver fern are found only in New Zealand. Not everything is found everywhere.

New Zealand is known for divaricating shrubs which have tiny leaves on masses of wide-angled criss-crossed branches. We examined the structure of various coprosmas and discussed hypotheses about why there is such an abundance of divaricating plants in New Zealand.

An unusual feature of many of our plants is having male and female flowers on different plants. For example, male and female flowers of coprosmas are normally produced on separate plants. Female plants are those that have fruit.

Flowers of New Zealand plants are often small, insignificant and white, although looking closely, they are intricate and beautiful. With New Zealand experiencing a number of climate cycles and ice ages, these flowers are ready to use any pollinator. They did not evolve to attract just one kind of pollinator.

We spotted a bedraggled tree with brown, dying leaves. Leon mentioned Te Papa gets queries from visitors about the health of these particular trees. However, being a tree fuchsia/kōtukutuku, its state was not due to lack of care; it’s one of the few New Zealand deciduous trees.

An intriguing discussion ensued while identifying which tree ferns are ‘scaly’ or ‘hairy’. Leon passed around pieces of tree fern frond stalks to rub between our fingers. We discovered mamaku feels scaly (as does silver fern) whereas whekī is hairy. We will now look at tree ferns with a different eye, to see if they are related to mamaku or whekī.

A range of birds including kererū, tūī and kārearea now visit Bush City. Some of us were fortunate to spot a tūī plucking seeds from a kohekohe fruit. Naturally found in Wellington, kohekohe flowers grow directly on the trunk or branches.

Leon’s enlightening stories about distinctive features of our flora plus the chance to see and examine plants in this hotspot of biodiversity, has encouraged us to look more closely at our native plants when out in the bush.


Loralee Hyde, member.